Posted by: Mike Cornelius | June 3, 2018

Tiger, Tiger, Tiger, And Oh Yea, DeChambeau

Tiger Woods didn’t win the Memorial Tournament this weekend. It feels necessary to start with that point, because the coverage of the event was such that a casual fan would be excused for assuming that it was Woods who received the congratulatory handshake tournament sponsor Jack Nicklaus traditionally bestows on the champion next to the 18th green at the end of play. For the record, the hand Nicklaus shook belonged to 24-year-old Bryson DeChambeau.

During Thursday’s opening round, smartphones lit up with worried notifications from ESPN, CBS Sports, and the Golf Channel, advising fans that Woods was off to a slow start after he made bogey on his second hole of the tournament and later added both another bogey and a double before recording his first birdie of the week. Woods managed to fight back to even par in that first round, and when his scores improved over the next two days he took over the Memorial’s media coverage if not the actual tournament.

The New York Times reported the events of the second round under the headline “Tiger Woods Commands the Crowd, and Almost the Course, at the Memorial.” One had to read down to the story’s eighth paragraph to discover that despite his fine 67, Woods was tied for 24th place. The following day brought more of the same, with the headline in the paper of record reading “Tiger Woods Soars at the Memorial, Except on the Greens.” Other than reporting that Woods was five shots adrift of third-round leader DeChambeau, the story provided no information on the play of anyone else in the field.

Other outlets were similarly preoccupied. Perhaps most egregious was a tweet by the normally sensible Tim Rosaforte. The Golf Channel analyst sent out a screen shot of the leader board when Woods got to 11-under par late in his round, which briefly tied him for the lead. Rosaforte added the caption “What’s happening? Tiger Woods is what’s happening. Had to take a picture of this.” What Rosaforte surely knew is that Woods, who would bogey two of his final three holes to drop back to minus-9, was almost done with his round while the leaders had barely begun play. On a day where many players were going low, there was virtually no chance the screen grab would reflect the standings at the end of the day, and of course it did not.

On Sunday Woods birdied his first hole, but after that he stalled. His final round of even par 72 sent him down the leader board, into a tie for 23rd place. In one sense the fact that he received vastly more media attention than all twenty-two golfers who finished ahead of him combined is not surprising. Although almost five years removed from his last PGA Tour victory and with the ten-year anniversary of his last major triumph just a fortnight hence, he remains the best-known golfer in the world. His name in a headline will attract readers, and reports that Woods is “in the hunt” will almost certainly boost television ratings. But it doesn’t seem fair to either Tiger Woods or any of the golfers who have been at the top of the leader boards in the events that he has played this year to focus so exclusively on his play or to establish two definitions of the word “contending,” a fanciful one for Woods and a realistic one for everyone else. Nor does ignoring the play of so many outstanding golfers do anything to grow the game.

That Woods is playing at all again after his many back surgeries is a testament to modern medicine, and that his game is good and seems to be improving is certainly welcome news. Long-time readers know that On Sports and Life has predicted more than once that Woods will eventually return to the winner’s circle, and that the thought of him winning again at one of the Tour’s major stops is not far-fetched. But there will be time enough to celebrate that moment when it comes, rather than pretending it’s at hand as he plays his way into a tie for 23rd.

If much of the media coverage of the Memorial deserves criticism, one thing that CBS did right on Sunday was to go live when the main network feed started at 2:30. A threatening weather forecast pushed final round tee times up to the morning, with the leaders on the course by 9:30. Most networks would have chosen to show the play sequentially on tape delay. But with the final threesome on the 17th hole when the appointed hour arrived, CBS went directly to the action, with Jim Nantz explaining that they would show earlier segments of the round, “showing how we got here,” after a winner was determined. Given that viewers would have had multiple means of learning the tournament’s result, the network’s call made for far more compelling viewing than a three-and-a-half-hour replay.

What viewers saw was a dramatic finish in which four golfers had a chance to win. Patrick Cantlay, who had been the leader through much of the final round, was the first to fall away when he chose to hit driver off the 17th tee and found a fairway bunker. Already one back after two earlier back nine bogeys, Cantlay was unable to reach the green with his second, instead going trap to trap. His explosion shot from the greenside bunker ran well past the hole, and the ensuing bogey left his two shots behind.

Also playing in the final group, Kyle Stanley had seemed out of the tournament just a few holes earlier but had clawed back to within a shot thanks to three straight birdies at 14, 15, and 16. He seemed unlikely to extend that string at the 17th after his approach finished well right of and above the pin. But he stroked a lengthy putt that ran along the edge of the green before turning ninety degrees right and trundling down the hill and into the cup to tie DeChambeau, the third member of the grouping.

Meanwhile up ahead on the 18th green Byeong Hun An had a downhill birdie putt to make it a three-way tie, but his roll stayed just left of the hole. But Stanley’s drive at the last ricocheted off a tree and into deep rough, and DeChambeau hit a poor approach shot far from the hole. When both made bogey, they welcomed the 26-year-old Korean into a three-way sudden death playoff.

They played the 18th twice more to determine a winner. Stanley’s bad luck at the last continued in the playoff, with his drive finishing in deep rough on a steep hillside. He was barely able to advance the ball from that awkward stance, and then missed the green with his third. While his chip for par rattled the flagstick, it stayed out and Stanley was eliminated when both DeChambeau and An hit excellent chips to save a four. The two survivors both found the fairway the next time, but An blew his approach over the green, while DeChambeau’s shot finished ten feet above the hole. An hit a fantastic flop shot to three feet for a likely par, but DeChambeau rendered the heroics moot by holing the birdie. After exulting on the green, he headed for that handshake with the greatest golfer ever. As DeChambeau did so another singular talent, the greatest of his generation and the focus of so much attention this week, was not in the picture.

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